11 November 2014

Remembering the Hunting Trip I Didn't Go On and Listening to the Women Talk

When I was about 15 years old I went on a hunting trip with my dad and uncle. Only I didn’t hunt. I stayed at the house with the women folk. I remember spending a large chunk of the day sitting in the dining room where they were having coffee and pastries and listening to them gab. Tell you the truth I felt kind of queer — in both senses of the word — staying behind with the ladies while the men went off being manly. But I had no interest in sitting in the woods stalking deer and even less interest in shooting at one. At the time there were few ideas that were less appealing to me.

I’d gotten a BB gun for Christmas when I was nine and loved shooting it. We were in Tahoe that Christmas and I went out into the woods and shot off a lot of twigs from tree branches. I became a pretty good shot. I pretended to be a solider in World War II killing Nazis. For a couple of years I loved that gun more than anything.

Then one Summer we were in Napa where we had some property and a boat by the Sacramento River. It had been my maternal grandfather’s getaway. There was a small shack that served as living quarters. It was in a very sparsely populated area. I would march around with that BB gun and slay imaginary enemies or shoot at targets. Then one day I saw a small bird some distance off. I took aim and fired. Bullseye. I’ll never forget the sight of that bird — instantly killed — cartwheeling softly to the ground. My dad had just happened to see the shot and ran over to congratulate me on my marksmanship. But I felt sick. Poor bird, I’d killed it. I never wanted to kill a living creature again and to this day haven’t — save some insects in unavoidable situations such as spiders that have menaced my daughters.

So of course killing deer was out of the question. I didn’t mind if my dad did. In this case it meant getting out of the city for the weekend. We were up in beautiful area of Northern California about a half hour drive inland from Mendocino. We were staying with some Finnish people in this small -- and I mean very very small -- town called Comptche which has the distinction of being the place where I lost my virginity — but that’s a story for another time.

The population of Comptche had to be somewhere around 100 and a chunk of that total were in three houses in the same neck of the woods — one small, one medium and a large one where we were staying — occupied by people of Finnish ancestry. The occupants of one of the houses and his brother rounded out the hunting party that day. In later years it was a great place to go and party as my cousins and I became of partying age. (Partying in this case being a euphemism for getting high.)

Anyway there I was listening to women talk. Much of it was frightfully boring being about the most trivial matters a teenaged boy could imagine, such as domestic chores. But all of it gave me some insight into the world of adults. I was at an age when I was sorting out the world and grown ups were becoming more than either simply parents or authority figures or the hopelessly square. Listening to the women yak was giving more dimension to these strange creatures, even if much of it was sadly dull. I do recall one of the women — probably the youngest among them — discussing her husband’s sex habits. She made it sound as if if sex for her was a chore akin to having dinner ready. Something she did out of obligation whenever it was required. For all I know she quite enjoyed a tumble herself but it wasn’t apparent from her description of knowing her man’s needs and complying with them. I did not let this effect my anticipation of my own forthcoming participation in the sex act which I was eagerly anticipating (although it seemed like it might be hopelessly far away -- it wasn’t).

Occasionally I would leave the ladies — I doubt they noticed or cared whether I was there or not although they reflexively offered whatever was being served while I was there — and stroll around in the great outdoors. I was always a thinker and there was nothing like a walk in the woods to facilitate a good think. There were hills aplenty, some of the foot variety and others approaching mountain status. I always hoped to encounter some sort of wildlife, preferably a bear. In retrospect this was a quite stupid wish. I could wander around for hours but the lure of treats in the house kept me from going too far for too long.

Back at the house I’d settle into a comfy chair and open a book but again be distracted by the palaver of the women. There was something comforting about listening to women talk as opposed to men. I grew up in a masculine environment and while I abhorred the very idea of hunting I took to fishing, skiing and of course playing sports. I was good at most everything I tried but excelled in soccer. By my early teens I was well versed in locker room talk. I could cuss with the best of them, discuss girls at great length, and boast and spit and do what guys do. It was my milieu. Over the years as I’ve spent much time with the and married the love of my life — a woman as it happens — and had two daughters, I’ve come to prefer the company of women. I coached all boys teams, all girls teams and co-ed teams. Girls make much better teammates. They are more supportive of each other and while they can be as competitive as boys they are not so ego driven.

Also I’ve been in many a car ride to a game and the difference between a car full of girls and a car full of boys is quite striking. Boys are louder, more obnoxious and sillier, I could even add stupider. I’ve also noted in my teaching career, both at the middle school level and now teaching young adults from all over the world, that most of my really good fun classes have female majorities and most of my difficult classes have male majorities.

Because my mother had serious mental problems for most of my childhood and my only sibling was a brother, I grew up without hearing many female voices. The one I regularly heard was anything but comforting. Mom was a right screamer when off her nut. That, I suppose, helps explain how soothing I found the women’s chatter that Saturday.

Eventually the men came home from the hunt and I believe on that occasion they were empty handed. Either way was fine with me. I didn’t fancy driving home with a dear carcass and I was no great fan of deer meet. On the other hand I knew how happy it made my dad when he bagged a buck. Given the sad case of dear ole ma, my dad and I were heavily invested in each other being happy as often as possible.

Despite the failure to kill a deer,  a festive evening followed replete with a big meal and alcohol flowing for the grown ups. I retired early and was finally able to read. The women now had their men to talk with.

Its a curious memory to cling to but I often think back on that day. Fondly I might add.

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